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Editorial: Despite absence of officials at Games, dialogue with China vital

  • December 27, 2021
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 1:00 p.m.
  • English Press
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Tokyo has announced that it will not be sending a government delegation of Cabinet members or other senior officials to the Beijing Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will be opening in February.


Attending the Games will be Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games; Yasuhiro Yamashita, head of the Japanese Olympic Committee; and Kazuyuki Mori, chief of the Japanese Paralympic Committee.


The three will be in attendance at the invitation of parties including the International Olympic Committee.


While it is indeed important for Japan to send the message that it can no longer turn a blind eye to China’s grave infringements on human rights, it remains an extremely serious challenge for our country, in terms of its security and economy, to build stable ties with this neighbor, which continues rapidly rising in power.

Persistent efforts for dialogue and a well-balanced and sensible diplomatic approach are essential for that purpose.


The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden said earlier this month that it has decided against sending government representatives to the Beijing Games in protest of China’s human rights abuses, including in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.


Britain, Canada and Australia followed suit, but France, host of the 2024 Summer Games, stopped short of falling in line, saying that sports should not be linked with politics.


Japan shelved the option of sending Commissioner Koji Murofushi of the Japan Sports Agency to the Games, a plan that it had floated for some time, thereby choosing to fall into step with the United States and other like-minded nations.


Tokyo, however, has consistently remained equivocal, presumably out of consideration for Beijing, in explaining the reason behind the decision.


“It is important for freedom, respect for basic human rights and the rule of law, all of which represent universal values of the international community, to be guaranteed in China as well,” said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who added that he took into account those matters “from an overall perspective” in making the decision.


The prime minister, however, stopped short of referring to specific issues, such as the crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong and the human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.


Kishida has openly placed emphasis on human rights as a policy of his administration, as exemplified by the creation of the new post of a special adviser to the prime minister on international human rights issues. Given that, he should be straightforward in showing his concerns over the matter.


He should, at the same time, also continue working on China, without shutting the door to dialogue, so his overtures will lead to real improvements in the human rights situation.


Athletes, after all, are the central players in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Politicians and government representatives, if any, are only sent there on the sidelines.


We should draw on this occasion to reaffirm that the sporting extravaganzas should not be exploited for political purposes, such as exaltation of national prestige or horse-trading between major powers.


China is Japan’s neighbor with close historic and cultural ties, and is also Japan’s largest trading partner.


Japan should be working with China in addressing so many challenges, including climate change and COVID-19 countermeasures, even while being increasingly on the lookout for the neighbor’s boundless military buildup, high-handed maritime advances and provocative behavior toward Taiwan.


Tokyo’s policy toward China to date has laid emphasis on confrontation, including through reinforcement of the Japan-U.S. alliance and the so-called “Quad” framework of Japan, the United States, Australia and India.


We should not forget that, in order to maintain Japan’s peace and security amid the U.S.-China rivalry, we need independent strategies that also include measures for trust-building and cooperation.


–The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 26

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